Friday, November 6, 2015

Heeee's REALLY back....but, oh, now, beer-less!

Out of Africa: Sorry for the long delay, but there are good reasons, which I'll detail here soon. I just can't be as candid as I'd like at the moment because of some lingering and delicate issues involving our time in Uganda.

As most of you know, we are back home in Kansas. I was true to my word in the last posting back in February. I truly did love my job. I told everyone: "I loved going to work every day."

But I also said, from day one, that I would stay only if I could be assured of two things:

1. I was confident that we could succeed in our mission to make the Monitor operation (national newspaper and two radio stations) truly independent.

And 2., we would do that through quality journalism employing only the highest standards.

Despite the many good folks in my newsroom who were dedicated to that, under the most trying of conditions, there were others who, sadly, were not. They were there, in my opinion, to further their own agendas, not the one desired by His Highness, the Aga Khan, and me. In late February, shortly after my meeting with the Aga Khan, it became clear that His Highness would not − or could not − do what I felt was necessary to achieve that. Given that and my exhausting schedule that had taken its toll, Joyce and I decided to come home.

More on that later, as well as what we've been doing, and what our plans are....and we have many.

Number One on the list: Enjoy retirement! And golf. (As I've lamented to many, this is the biggest indicator of how hard I'd been working: Uganda has perfect golf weather every day − 65 to 85 degrees − and I didn't get to play golf once in our 13 months in Uganda!)

Beer bust! I don't wish to trivialize health issues, but I got bad news from my doctor yesterday, and everyone who knows me knows that these are the two words I never wanted to hear: "No beer!" 

Since my bout with shingles (get the shot!), I have had digestive issues. Nexium worked for a bit, but then lost its effectiveness. So, yesterday, our good doctor said:

1. Let's do a scope down your throat (gag!, but that's not scheduled until mid-January) to see if there's something going on.

2. Double the dosage of Nexium.

And 3. (and he knows the weight of the two words that followed because he's been my doctor for 20 years, and we've had the "good beer versus bad beer" discussion): Eliminate carbonated beverages, so "no beer!"

Oh, well, there's wine during the week and martinis on Sundays. But I will miss that good IPA.

My sincere wish to all: Good spirits and good health.



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Heeeeee's baaaack! And lovin' it.

I love my job. Finally.

Joyce and I hit the one-year anniversary mark of landing in Kampala on Sunday. We'd planned to celebrate by going to the same restaurant we went to on our arrival a year ago Sunday -- a revolving restaurant high above the Golf Course Hotel that offers a panoramic view of Kampala along with some really good food (and a pretty good martini).

Those plans were dashed when I got a call from Mahmood Ahmed, the Aga Khan's representative for this part of the world and someone who's become a good friend. We had dinner with him and his wife in London to help celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary.

Mahmood had called Sunday to ask if I could have dinner with him because he had something important to discuss.

The issue: I was to meet with the Aga Khan on Wednesday to discuss the Daily Monitor -- what we're doing and, more importantly, where we needed to go and what we needed to do to get there.

Aga Khan
That two-hour meeting, including some other folks from the Monitor Publications Board, came to be on Wednesday afternoon, with me sitting directly to His Highness's right.

If you don't know much about the Aga Khan, you should -- if you care anything about trying to make the world a better place. He was a 20-year-old student at Harvard when tapped to lead the Ismaili Muslim nation, and he's been at it for almost 60 years. He started the Daily Nation in Nairobi about 50 years ago, and it remains one of the best, if not the best, news operations in Africa. He is the majority owner of my media operation, Monitor Publications Ltd.

Media are not his main contribution, he just thinks strong and independent media are important to any country's development. His bigger concerns are education (Joyce was volunteering at one of his schools) and, well, social programs and development at all levels He has dedicated his life to making countries like Kenya, Uganda, Afghanistan and many other spots in the world much better places to live.

I've been a fan since first coming to Africa in 1969. Next to Mandela (and, maybe Julius K. Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, who translated Shakespeare into kiSwahili in addition to being one of Africa's greatest leaders), the Aga Khan is the guy I had wanted to meet and to thank.

After the discussion on how we needed to proceed to become the best at what we can do (and not always sunshine and roses), I had the opportunity to do just that. The only disappointment was that I did not have an opportunity to get a photo with him (which I would have put next to my "Mandela and me" photo I'm showing to everyone in Uganda).

As for loving my job, I couldn't say that two months ago. But I can say it now.

And sorry for the silence, but it's because I now love my job that I can write this with some confidence...though still not with the candor I'd like.

But the good news is that I do love my job, in great part because I have a new leadership team in place that is dedicated to our mission.

And I genuinely like and respect  (most) of the people I'm working with.

We have an acting managing director (publisher), Stephen Gitagama, who's "real" job is Chief Financial Officer of our parent in Nairobi, the Nation Media Group. He and I have an absolutely great working relationship because we share the same vision. A new MD is scheduled to come in soon; here's hoping we have the same relationship because we're finally making the progress we've been hoping to make on all fronts.

So, life is good. And there's hope it will continue.

Stay tuned.

P.S.: Joyce and I are heading to Tampa, Fla., on March 11 to be there for my mom's 100th birthday on Friday, March 13. Then we head to Lawrence (mainly for doctor's appointments and to do taxes), then we head to Colorado for a week -- I'm participating in the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder -- then we head back to Kampala. Oh, and while in Lawrence, I'm doing Brenna Hawley and Dennis Craig's wedding. Oh, and if weather is good, at least one round of golf. And, of course, some Free State beer.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Four weddings, London and Boulder...

Three months of silence, and for that I apologize, but there are good reasons. As for the reasons, I'll leave those for a later post (but -- here's a teaser -- a hint can be found below) or in person, over a good beer.

Andrea and Ian with me officiating at their wedding on Oct. 25.
I began writing this to chronicle three weddings -- on three successive Saturdays: the first on Saturday, Oct. 25, of our wonderful son, Ian, to the equally wonderful Andrea Garcia aboard a big boat on San Francisco Bay (with the rehearsal dinner at my favorite SF eatery, The Stinking Rose, a garlic restaurant, where we hooked up with good friends Jerry and Valerie Rollison from Montana, Bill and Mary Garrison from North Carolina and, of course, Ian's sister, Jennifer, and grandson Adam); the second on the following Saturday at ("Yippee!") Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City with an Africa connection (former student Jack Weinstein and his lovely bride had just returned from two years in Swaziland), and the third shortly after our return to Uganda of two wonderful journalists who work at the Daily Monitor.

But this posting will concentrate on another wedding almost 43 years ago. A warning to anyone living in London: We've decided to spend our 43rd wedding anniversary in London. We'd like to see all we know there, as well as getting tips on what to see (and avoid). We arrive Dec. 10 and leave Dec. 16.

The latest chapter in this story began in September when Joyce and I unexpectedly (and somewhat stealthily) left Kampala for Lawrence (for reasons I will detail at some point when I've ultimately left this part of the world, but the issues were and are serious, which are underscored by this comment from the leadership of the Nation Media Group's operations in Tanzania at a meeting in Nairobi: When they found out who I was, the leader of the group said, "Oh, you're the guy ruffling feathers!" He was being euphemistic.)

After sneaking out of Uganda, I returned a week later, leaving Joyce in Lawrence to tend to things at home in Kansas. That resulted in something Joyce and I decided will never happen again: being separated. The three-plus weeks until my return in mid-October was the longest separation from each other in our almost 43 years of marriage. It was tougher than either of us had imagined. Chats, every day without fail, on Skype helped, but it simply wasn't good enough. We decided we depend -- and love -- each other too much to endure that long a time apart ever again. Perhaps, just perhaps, it was the distance (8,000 miles), the time difference (8 hours at the time), her being comfortably at home and me in a hotel (nice, but...) in a land far away with tumultuous, often disruptive, demands at work, and our ages (being in a routine at this point of our lives), but nevertheless we came to a decision: never again.

Gratefully, the separation came to an end on Oct. 17, when, on that Friday (shortly after midnight), I boarded British Air (a wholly unpleasant flying experience, BTW, the worse so far from Africa) for the flight home to reunite with Joyce.

I arrived late afternoon the same day (thanks to the 8-hour differential at the time). We drove home, ordered Tad's Pizza (supreme, of course; Ugandan pizza is OK, but not great), immediately drank some good IPA (which is absent in Uganda, as noted in earlier posts), and got some well-needed sleep (because I don't sleep on airplanes, unlike Joyce who's snoring before takeoff: "Ahh, a 12-hour nap.").

The next day, we ran some errands and greeted a few folks, including Brenna Hawley, whose wedding to Dennis I'll be officiating in March, before packing to catch the just-before-midnight departure from downtown Lawrence for the two-day relaxing ride (in a sleeper Roomette) on Amtrak to LA and, ultimately, San Jose for the big event the following Saturday: Ian and Andrea's wedding.

After a week of (for the most part) taking it easy, wedding day came -- with some hitches. When San Francisco played it's way into the unlikely pairing with the Kansas City Royals for the World Series, it caused a bit of a problem. Ian and Andrea had booked their wedding on a rather large boat/ship that would cruise San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, the dock from which it was to depart was immediately next to the stadium where Game Four of the World Series was to be played. Booked months earlier, Ian and Andrea had no idea that the World Series would be playing that night. In fact, had the National League won the All-Star Game instead of the American League, the game that night would have been played in Kansas City, not San Francisco. (C'mon National League...you can't win even though you make their pitcher go to bat.)

So, two things: The point of departure had to be switched to across the Bay to Alameda, and we had to hire a bus to transport all the good folks who'd already committed to staying at hotels in downtown S.F.

Despite the World Series, the wedding went well (with excellent officiating, if I do say so myself, but endorsed by the wedding photog who said it was the best ever though he likely says that to everyone), and the cruise of the Bay was great, too, though we knew SF was winning because we were on the bay right outside the stadium where we could hear the cheers of delight as SF swamped KC that night.

The happy couple (Joyce and I) left the next day, another wonderful two-night trip by Amtrak (luxury bus to Santa Barbara, train from there to LA, then a larger bedroom suite on Amtrak for the trip back to Lawrence). Ian and Andrea left shortly thereafter for an 8-day cruise in the Caribbean.

So, what's this got to do with London? Well, Joyce and I were looking for a place to go for either our anniversary or Christmas, and we just sort of settled on London -- with a push from a Monitor board member and good friend who'll be there then.

So, London it is. And the journey there that began almost 43 years ago had, as with most relationships, it's ups and its downs, but for us mostly ups -- even joy -- with every twist and turn, including the challenging one we're experiencing now.

As for Uganda, still ruffling feathers, so not sure how long folks will endure that. But we will persist.

One thing's for certain. Feather or no feathers, ruffled or not, whether filled with ups or downs, Joyce and I won't be 8,000, 800 or even 80 miles apart for that long again.

P.S.: The folks at the University of Colorado host something called Conference on World Affairs each year, something they've been doing since 1948. The list of folks who've been invited and attended, over the years is, well, impressive. Eleanor Roosevelt, Molly Ivins, Norman Cousins, Roger Ebert, Joe Biden. The list goes on. Can't quite figure why -- other than good friend and former colleague Jeff Browne who teaches there laying it on thick about me -- but they've invited me to participate. So, Joyce (of course) and I will be in Boulder on April 6 for the week interacting with a bunch of folks a lot smarter than I. But it should be fun. And, yes, I'll bring my golf clubs, Jeff, who, perhaps, put my name forward because he needed someone to beat at golf, something he always does.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Catchin' up...

It's been more than a month since my last post, so here are some short takes on what's been happening (and, perhaps, reasons for the delay) -- everything from the (promised) news about the "Bate's Motel" to boda-boda drivers, celebrations and, the best news, a good beer. (And forgive wordiness, etc. -- I am doing this quickly to get it done.)

Bate's Motel: "He has a gun," I said, calmly, in an effort to soothe fears.

Context is everything, and for our guest on our trip upcountry it was anything but.

"I can't sleep alone," was the immediate retort.

I had said what I said to allay any fears about the really reasonably-priced hotel we were forced into because of our later-than-expected arrival to the motel, found after a long search (in both time and distance), following our visit to Murchison Falls National Park. Along the way, we had picked up a park guide, a genial fellow named Jim, who then tagged along with us to the hotel (looking for a free night's stay).

He was the one with the gun. (Well, he is an Ugandan wildlife officer, and a lot of people here carry guns.)

Despite my assurances that having someone in uniform with a gun outside your motel room was a comforting sight, it was no consolation to our guest, who had images of the Bate's Motel and, instead of a knife in the shower, it would be a wildlife official who had "hitchhiked" onto our party who would sneak in and "pow, pow" -- that's all folks!

We all awoke the next morning, safe and sound -- with Jim and his gun still in tow.

Mzee 1, boda-boda driver 0: Score one for the old guy, me, the "mzee," a term of reverence reserved for old guys in East Africa.

Joyce and I were stuck in traffic in downtown Kampala when the driver of a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) swept by in front of us and clipped our front bumper, tearing it (the cover) pretty much completely off.

He didn't stop (not unusual), but it pissed me off. Even my "I hate anything violent" wife (to the point she won't watch violent movies) yelled: "Get him" as I took off in our Rav4, weaving through traffic, including the wrong way (right side) of the packed street. After about 100 meters, the fleeing boda-boda got blocked by a jam, so I screeched to a halt about 20 meters short, jumped out, ran up to the driver, a tall man in his early 30s, grabbed him by his jacket and yanked him off. (His passenger jumped off and fled the scene.)

All this attracted a crowd, which thankfully was on my side. I yelled, "I want the police," and several of the bystanders pointed to a police shack a short way up the street.

With a firm hold on his jacket, I dragged the offender to the police, with a couple of folks in the crowd rolling his boda-boda behind us.

I kept telling the guy: "You should have stopped, and I wouldn't have been mad" (something I kept telling him during the entire adventure).

Of course, he didn't stop because he likely didn't have insurance and no ability to pay.

While we chatted with the police, a young man came up with a few tools and some screws. He began putting the bumper cover (which had come completely off during my chase) back into its proper place.

About an hour later, the job was done, as was the gathering of information, during which the traffic cop asked me a bunch of questions, including my age.

"71," I replied.

"Uh, how old?" he asked.

"71."

He gave me a quizzical, startled and surprised look.

"Well, he just pissed me off," I said.

He seemed then to accept that, though his look did not change.

I gave the guy who repaired our bumper 20,000 shillings (about $7.50), scolded the boda-boda driver once more and, after about an hour from initial impact until bumper repaired, went merrily on our way.

The next morning, when I told Alex Asiimwe, the managing director of our operation, about it, he said: "Don't do that!"

I was lucky the crowd was on my side, he said.

"But," I replied, "he pissed me off."

He had the same look as the cop.

Weddings: We went to our first Ugandan wedding (Muslim) last Saturday, and we're going to another (Christian) today.

Today's, I'm sure, will be wonderful (for one of my favorite folks at the Monitor, a young, talented reporter with young, talented copy editor -- called sub-editor here).

Last Saturday was a five-hour affair, but worth every minute. A beautiful bride, two beautiful children and a great groom. Oh, and great food and great conversation with new friendships made.

The bride was Aidah Nalubega, officially my administrative assistant, but in reality my "boss." She is smart, beautiful and dedicated -- and, perhaps, the most important person to any successes I might enjoy here. She is helpful at every turn (and, if I have my way, she'll be playing even more important newsroom roles soon).

Our visitors in June (Sarah and Chris and Lauren) know Aidah, so they can confirm.

I tell folks that I always cry at weddings, and this was no exception. I did when she first came out in her beautiful gown (not white, but in beautiful African colors), just one of three beautiful gowns she wore during the ceremony. And, again, when I was asked to speak to the large crowd about what Aidah meant to me (and to Joyce).

Joyce and I, who were seated up front with family, were honored and privileged to have been invited.

She and her husband, "W," have been together for 12 years and have two beautiful children. We wish them many, many more years of happiness.

That day will be with us forever.

Now, in a bit, Joyce and I have to get ready for today's wedding, and tomorrow we've been invited to a birthday party for one of our young newsroom editors.

Moments like these make this often-trying adventure all worthwhile.

Beer: I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- the beer in Uganda is boring. Just Pilsners, lagers and stout. Nothing with distinct flavor or bite. Just "Budweiser" to me (and you all know that I NEVER drink "Bud").

Well, the beer gods must have taken notice: A micro-brewery has opened! And just down the hill from us! (Yippee!!!)

As of now, only two beers with four planned. One on tap now is a Pilsner (better than the ones mass-produced here, but still...); the other is an amber ale that is WONDERFUL! Has a smoky aftertaste, much like a Scotch ale. Not an IPA, but (if they can get the proper hops), the owners have promised to try to make some.

I am happy. Found the place last Sunday, and we've already been there three times (and we'll be there again on Sunday).

We talked about getting growlers (so I can bring some to the apartment so I can sip it while looking at the Kampala skyline from our aerie). They said they had plans for that, but were having trouble getting them. I said that I am going to bring one back with me from the States in October. They said, "Good!"

So all is well (better) here in Uganda.

Oh, Yasigi is the goddess of beer in Mali!

Cheers.

Promise: And, finally, a promise to be more diligent in posting to this blog. Though (and Sarah and Chris and Lauren likely understand), I am working hard, and the challenges here are much more profound, at every level, than I had anticipated. So, be patient, but feel free to goad (a la Jonathan Kealing).

And, again, cheers...time to head to the wedding and, perhaps, that good amber ale after the festivities.

P.S.: Oh, had to get new tires for the Rav4. The brand is called Achilles. Hmmm, not very comforting, from my point of view, if you think "heel."

P.P.S.: I will post pictures of wedding, likely tomorrow. Gotta run to another wedding.



Saturday, July 5, 2014

A pack of pachyderms and ... (the Bate's Motel!?!)

What do you do when you are surrounded by 60 or more elephants?

You simply stand in awe...and snap as many photos as possible even though darkness is grabbing a quick hold.

What do you do when a bull elephant blocks the road?

You wait, of course!

He was busy eating, and our repeated revving of the engine and whistles and barks had little effect, other than prompting an occasional perturbed glance our way.

So, we waited.

We came across this fellow during our twilight drive through Murchison Falls
National Park in northwest Uganda as we were trying to leave the park just as
the sun was about to leave us for the day. But we had to wait until he decided
we could proceed. About 15 minutes later, we came across an even more
amazing experience: a herd of about 60 elephants, who didn't seem to mind
that we were driving in the midst of their evening meal among the trees
as darkness set in.

Ahh, Uganda!

In the three weeks since our return from our visit to the States, life has been a bit of a whirlwind. The elephant encounters came during part of what made it a whirlwind: the visit of two former students and the husband of one.

But the whirlwind, work aside, really began at the end of the first week back when we said good-bye to good friend Prof. Jim Kelly of Indiana University, who headed up a group of IU students on an study-abroad experience in Uganda, and 11 of his study-abroad students, who spent almost a month at the Daily Monitor. They were here because, when they couldn't go to Kenya (because of a ban on student travel because of terror threats), Jim asked me if I could accommodate some of his group.

"I'll take 'em all," I replied.

So the group came to Uganda, interning at the Daily Monitor working with some of our folks on a series of stories on HIV/AIDs. The first series kicks off tomorrow, Sunday, July 6.
The IU contingent. That's IU Prof. Jim Kelly at the far right.
And that's the view from our pool.

Just before they left, Joyce and I hosted a party at our place. The night before the Saturday gathering, we invited Scott DeLisi, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, and his wife, Leija, to walk the "two doors" up the hill to our place, and they said, "Sure!" We thought they'd drop by for a few minutes, but wound up staying for the entire three hours at the poolside BBQ (of grilled marinated chicken and goat, which, BTW, was marvelous -- the food, the fact Scott and Leija stayed and enjoyed themselves, and the IU folks -- who surprised me with a special gift: a plaid bow-tie, in IU colors, of course. Quite fetching, I must say.)

That night, shortly after the BBQ, we headed to the airport for some more special guests, two former students, Sarah (nee Hill) Green and Lauren Beatty and Sarah's husband, Chris. More about their visit in the next blog except to say they got a good sampling of Uganda, including a bit of "Uganda's revenge" (you figure it out) and that bull elephant in the road and Nile Specials (a beer) on a boat on the Nile. How appropriate.

At Murchison Falls with our Kansas visitors and friends,
Edridge and Kabs (Kabagambe Swamadu, our driver
and good friend). With them, from left, Sarah Green, me,
Joyce, Lauren Beatty and Chris Green. The falls are hidden by
Joyce's hat. And, yes, if you come, bring a good hat.
Sarah, Chris and Malcolm have Tilley hats, which all
three recommend.

More on them in the next installment, though the next part of the whirlwind began after dropping 'em off at the airport for the 30-hour trip home: some reality about living in East Africa. I got hit -- hard -- by an intestinal bacterial infection that had me heading home early most days and missing one day completely.

I knew I was sick when two young staffers, each independent of the other, came into my office to say: "You're looking older. Are you OK?"

And those who know me know I'm really in distress by this: I haven't had a beer since the dinner before that Monday night ride to the airport to put our Kansas friends on the plane home.

But all is better now, thanks to "cipro" (ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic) that seems to be helping. But no beer (or our usual Sunday martinis). Maybe on Monday. Stay tuned.

But if you've ever had a hankering to visit, check in with Sarah and Chris, and Lauren. We're sure they'll have lots of advice -- mostly good and encouraging, I think. Just don't ask Lauren about "another beautiful day in Uganda" -- at least after travelling five hours on a dirt road, a couple of bumpy twilight hours looking for wildlife, no food since breakfast, and thinking she was going to have to spend the night in the "Bate's Motel" with a serial killer named James.

But, for that part of the whirlwind, you'll  have to wait until the next installment.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Excited to be back...

Joyce and I are back in Uganda after some "R&R" in Lawrence and Boston.

We had a great time at home -- hectic but relaxing traveling 8,000 miles, then shuttling between Boston-Lawrence-Boston. And it was fun to see Jennifer, Adam and Chris in Boston, and many friends in Lawrence (especially golf with Pam!). And getting former student, soon-to-be-grad-student Travis Robinett settled into the house on Holiday Drive.

But it's great to be back here, too.

Jet lag wasn't too bad, and we both picked up colds on the way back to the U.S., but mostly back to normal here -- including work. The Monitor is facing many of the same challenges that news operations are facing in the U.S., but the potential, in my view, is much greater here. Stay tuned.

And we have excitement today on two fronts: hosting a BBQ today and the arrival of three special visitors who'll be staying with us this next week.

Today, we're hosting 11 Indiana University students for a BBQ at our place (by the pool, of course). We'll have chicken and goat (and beer and wine). And Scott and Leija DeLisi are planning to stop by to say "hi" (and eat, too, we assume). Scott is the U.S. ambassador who lives just two "doors" down the hill, an easy walk up to us, then down back home, from us.

The IU students, under the guidance of Prof. Jim Kelly, worked with our Monitor colleagues on two special reports on HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Their work should start appearing as soon as next week. All reports indicate that the project will be first-rate.

As for Prof. Jim, he led many sessions for our photo staff. This is how successful it was. The photo chief came to me and said: "He's the best professor I've ever known." I replied: "Cool! But what about me?" "He's the best professor I've ever known," he repeated -- with a big grin.

Oh, well.

And the other big news is that we are picking up three folks from the airport tonight at 9:45 p.m.

Two former students -- Sarah, nee Hill, Green and Lauren Beatty -- along with Sarah's husband, Chris. We are so excited (and honored because, right after I had accepted the job in December, they quickly announced that they were coming for a visit!!! OK, who's next?)

Many plans, which I will post in this spot, including white-water rafting on the Nile in nearby Jinja, a visit upcountry to two game preserves (elephants, lions, hippos, crocs and more!), a visit to our driver-friend's home village (where we were given the rooster), and lots more!

We will be posting photos and updates.

Gotta run. Heading out to buy beer and ice and etc. for today's party...and our Kansas contingent.




Tuesday, May 27, 2014

10 things we miss about home...

I began this blog a couple of weeks ago (trying to keep my promise of posting at least once each week, usually on Saturdays, and I'm doing it now, in part, because of the welcomed and needed kick in the butt from Jonathan Kealing). However, events had gobbled up both time and energy. So, below, is what I'd planned. But, first, an update (and reason for the delay):

We've been busy, and not because of this government ministry or that summoning me to complain about something we'd published. And the internet at our place has been spotty, then out of service for the past few days.

Ah, but the update:

Beginning Sunday week ago through Tuesday, we made an upcountry trip to check in with four of our bureaus to the west: Masaka, Mbarara, Fort Portal and Hoima (when our correspondent came to Fort Portal). Great trip, beautiful scenery, and wonderfully illuminating about what we can do (better) and to better tap the potential, both of the talent in those bureaus and the potential audience as well. Here are some highlights (beyond the journalism and the pleasant exchanges with all those we met, as well as our travelling companions -- Justus Katungi, who is our circulation director; Aidah Nalubega, officially the newsroom's (and my) administrative assistance whom I call "the boss" because nothing would get done without her expert help and advice; Henry Mukasa, a brilliant young editor in Kampala who oversees and inspires all our upcountry coverage, and, of course, my driver and our good and valued friend Swamadu Kabagambe ("Kabs," prounounced "Kuhbs], who drove much of the way (though I did some driving, too), and provided one special highlight that involves a rooster, so keep reading. In Musaka, I got to hold a newborn, so, beyond just meeting the good journalists there, I was happy. In Mbarara (prounounced mmm-bah-RAH-rah), we had spirited discussions. And in Fort Portal, more spirited discussion about journalism, and, that night, we stayed at one of the nicest motels ever.

Oh, and elephants. On the way to Fort Portal. which carried us through mountains into the valley below, we slipped by (not in) Queen Elizabeth National Park where, thanks to the sharp eye of Kabs, we saw a big tusked bull elephant and his harem moving slowly through the grasslands. We literally hopped atop our Rav4 for a better look and better photos. Exciting!

The biggest highlight was to come the Tuesday after meeting the news staff at Fort Portal. Kabs took us to his family's village not too far from Fort Portal. We were greeted by his grandmother and a small gathering of 40 or so relatives that soon grew to 80, mostly children. They danced, we danced, we chatted, we hugged, we danced some more, we hugged, and danced even more. We were thrilled, and Kabs told us they were thrilled, too (and the first muzungus [white people] she ever encountered in her 70-plus years). And, then, we were presented with a royal parting gift: a live rooster. It would have been terribly impolite to refuse!

So, Kabs, Joyce, Malcolm and the rooster settled into our four-seater Rav4 for the six-hour trip back to Kampala.

The rooster was a great traveler. I was not. I, city boy that I am, kept asking about my back-of-the-Rav4 companion: "When are we going dump the rooster."

Again, that would have been impolite. So Rudy the Rooster (we had to name him) and Malcolm, both in the back, and Kabs and Joyce, both in the front, made the trip all the way home.

I texted Alykhan Alibhai, whose family owns The Seventeen where we live, if we could keep the rooster. His reply: "You have a second bedroom."

Deeming that impractical, we left Rudy with Kabs, who took it home to his mother who raises chickens.

As for work, I had my first board meeting, and all went well. I got a ringing endorsement for what we're doing here. But, as with many media operations, times are tough here, and we're facing budget cuts. But the journalism is on the upswing, and because I'm sharing all we do with our readers, it's spurred discussion among all of Uganda interested in journalism.

Given the quality and enthusiasm of most of the folks here at the Monitor, I am now firmly convinced that I will accomplish the two things I've set out to accomplish: become the most respected media operation in Africa, and leave an Ugandan in my spot when I leave.

And, now, for what I'd intended to write about before Rudy entered the picture. P.S.: Photos to come!

Here are 10 things (and there are more) that we miss about home and will look forward to enjoying when back in Lawrence soon (arriving on June 1; heading back on June 9). In no particular order, except the last is first:

#1: Cheerios

OK, I've eaten Cheerios literally my entire life (and I'm thankful they were invented shortly before I was born). I eat 'em for breakfast, and I eat 'em for snacks. We did find some here. They appeared on the shelves shortly after we got here, but they seem to have disappeared from the shelves, and haven't been restocked. (C'mon, Uganda!). But, sadly, they were Multi-grain Cheerios and Honey-flavored Cheerios (also multi-grain), neither of which really count, and they're made by Nestle (with an agreement with General Mills) in England. England? Well, I guess, given the name, that shouldn't be surprising. But I NEED my good ol', regular, American-made, all-whole-grain-oats Cheerios. We're bringing back a suit-case filled with boxes of 'em. ("Excuse me, sir," the Ugandan customs official says. "Uh, why do you have 20 boxes of Cheerios. There will be an import fee, of course, of $500!" "Cheap enough," I reply, which tells you how important this is.

#2: Pizza

Our first meal in Lawrence will be a full-packed, everything-on-it pizza from Tad's, which is not far from our house. The pizza here ain't bad, especially at Mediterraneo (just down the hill from us), but they just don't have any good -- GOOD -- pepperoni. And, even though I often have pizzas at home without pepperoni, when you can't get it...

#3 Shrimp (prawns, here)

The stores don't have any (that are good) -- all pre-cooked, and they taste like sawdust. We are told you can get fresh shrimp (prawns) here, but we haven't found 'em. We had some good ones at the Chinese restaurant, so guess I'll have to steal some! At home in Kansas (which, Ugandans should note, is farther away from salt water than Uganda is), we get uncooked shrimp that don't taste like sawdust all the time. And we usually have it as a meal at least three times a week -- a little olive oil, a healthy (which means a lot) dose of garlic, a little lemon juice and some parsley (along with some grits or rice) and, voila!, the perfect meal. Yes, we will be cooking that for the 2nd night at home (and the third and, perhaps, the fourth, and....)

#4: Good beer

Oh, please, my kingdom for an IPA. As I've noted in earlier blogs, just Pilsners and lagers (and some stout) here, but I want a beer with a bite. The Brits invented IPA, and the first things Brits do whenever they invade, colonize and settle anywhere, they find a river and build a danged brewery. So, why no IPA? So, straight to Ray's Liquors for a sampling of IPAs. Then, the next day: Free State Brewery for some Ad Astra (and any the food folks there might have on "special"). Joyce and I had breakfast on Sunday with Scott DiLisi and his wife, Leija -- just the four of us. (He's the U.S. ambassador; they live two "doors" down the hill from us.) He's offered -- and I hope no one from the State Department is reading this -- to bring back any dearly missed "food stuff" (like Cheerios) in the diplomatic pouch. (I suspect he was kidding.) But when I suggested IPA, he said, "Can't...no liquids." So much for diplomatic relations!)

#5: English muffins

That brings us back to Scott and Leija. We told her of our yen for English muffins, and you can't find 'em here. (No English muffins. C'mon, England! What kind of colonizers are you. And, if you can bring in ersatz Cheerios, why no IPA and English muffins?) We want 'em for our usual Saturday morning breakfast of egg, cheese and bacon on an English muffin. Leija said that their cook makes them. Next thing we know, we get a text saying she'd leave some with the guard at her gate. We jogged down (not back up) to fetch 'em. They're great! (Thanks Scott and Leija; diplomatic relations restored!)

#6: Roads without potholes

Kampala is the pothole capital of the world. At least of the parts of the world I've seen. Now, it does make driving exciting -- sort of like the slalom in the Olympics -- but with all the skiers on the course at the same time -- bunches of skiers zig-zagging all over the place. Here, cars, trucks, boda-boda (motorcycle taxis) and mini-buses, all avoiding the same potholes and often competing for space. Like I said, exciting! And the reason Joyce is so reluctant to drive.

#7: CBS Sunday Morning.

The best TV magazine show invented. Plus, the host wears a bow-tie! Need I say more?

#8: The Sunday edition of The New York Times.

Serendipity each week, stumbling on articles you'd have otherwise not read. And, of course, the Sunday crossword.

#9: My Miata.

Thanks to Bill and Rita, who housesat and Miata-sat. Thankful, but also jealous that they got to drive her and I couldn't. They even sent a photo of 'em in it. Now that was cruel!

#10: Friends and family.

What's to say except: We miss you all.